Parkersburg Industrial Fire: What We Know and Don't Know

Oct 24, 2017

For the latest on the fire in Wood County, see here.

Wood County is under a state of emergency as an industrial fire continues to burn at a warehouse just outside Parkersburg city limits. Gov. Jim Justice joined state and county officials to discuss ongoing efforts to put the fire out and to address residents’ health concerns.

Still, a lot of questions remain about the incident and how it might affect residents of the surrounding area. Here’s what we know (and what we don’t know):

The key is getting the fire out. But even that is a question.

Weather patterns continue to be cooperative in terms of response efforts. Heavy rains in and around Parkersburg on Monday knocked a thick plume of smoke and concentrated it closer to the ground. Tuesday morning’s weather brought some relief. As rain moved out, the smoke thinned and headed upward -- away from the scene of the fire.

Even with a decrease in the plume’s size and the dissipation of the smell of burnt plastic, incident commander Mark Stewart, of the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department said there is still no timeline for extinguishing the fire.

With the fire still burning, private firefighting and hazmat firm Specialized Professional Services, Inc. of Washington, Pennsylvania, remains at the scene with local responders.

Officials are still not sure what was in the building when the fire started.

County Commissioner Blair Couch said that a warehouse owner handed Stewart a three-ring binder of material safety data sheets. Couch and other officials said that information is outdated and, thus, may not accurately reflect the materials stored at the facility as of Saturday, when the fire began.

"We're hoping for the property owner to complete his evaluation. He said his paper work was in the building that is no longer there. Now he's going through e-mails to get a bill of lading -- trying to figure out what they had shipped out," said Couch. "We have heard from certain industry insiders that have said, 'We know that's not there because we never sold them that.'"

Larry Messina of the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety also clarified that state and county officials are trying to obtain recent bills of lading that would show materials that have shipped to and from the facility. He said the owners have told state and county officials they are trying to track down those documents electronically via archived email.

“It’s going to be a little bit of time,” Couch said. “I know there’s just so many people with concerns, me not the least of them.”

 

So far, officials say air testing shows no signs of health hazards.

Gov. Jim Justice said at a Tuesday morning news conference that air-quality testing from the West Virginia Department of Environmental shows that 150 air samples are below a 1,000 parts per million threshold when tested for carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine and ammonium.

A representative for the state Department of Environmental Protection said those monitors had at one time been placed right next to the blaze. He said those readings detected levels higher than the 1,000 ppm level and were repositioned to more accurately reflect the air quality being consumed by the community.

County officials have also contracted Arkansas-based environmental consultants Center for Toxicology, Environment & Health to monitor air quality.

Justice and others promised continued attention to air quality to assure residents there are no threats to public health or safety. 

The owner of the property has a history in the area.

According to DEP-issued consent orders, Intercontinental Export Import, Inc. has been cited in March 2015 for failing to provide monthly water pollution reports to state regulators. According to its website, IEI is a subsidiary of Sirnaik. The West Virginia Secretary of State's office has a "Warehousing and Storage" company chartered in Wood County under the name Surnaik Holdings of WV, LLC.

IEI owns five warehousing and storage facilities in Wood County, according to county and state officials. The DEP says IEI have been the owner of the facility that burned since 2004.

Officials failed to provide information about whether the other facilities have been inspected since the fire.

Governor Justice said he nor other state or county officials are aware of the insurance policies obtained by IEI and to what degree their coverage might help with reimbursing the cost of the response, including any law suits that might be filed against the company.

"We don't know the extent. Now we've tried we've tried to figure that out. We do not know the extent of the insurance coverage whether it covers all liabilities or whatever," said Justice. "And, actually, you know this is a private entity and everything and, for all I know, the ownership is trying to do the right things and work in a positive way from what I know today."

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office is has been on the scene of the fire since Saturday but has yet to determine a cause.

 

In a Monday evening news conference, officials from the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office said in 2008 there was an operational sprinkler system at the facility. Officials were unsure of the status of the sprinkler system at the time of the fire.